Friday, August 28, 2009

Goodbye Michael Mazur

I was in Al Merola's in Ptown tonight for the opening of Jim Balla's show of new paintings, and I asked Al if he had seen Michael Mazur at all. The day before I had driven by Mazur's home and studio and had peered in through the gate hoping to get a glimpse of him. Almost under his breath Al whispered that he had died last Tuesday. Some things you just never get used to. Even though I knew he was really sick, hearing that someone has come and gone is a blow.

I first saw Mazur's work in 1972. He had a show in the Lamont Gallery at Exeter where I was a senior and a painter. Having spent some considerable portion of my life in New England on and off since then, there were always two big guns who lived and worked and belonged to the region(not New York artists with a place in Vermont). They were Gregory Gillespie and Michael Mazur. They made being an artist up here seem possible. They made living and working outside New York and actually being a fulfilled artist and having a bright light seem definitely possible. Of course, they were the exception, and of course, they were exceptional. They also made it true. They made it ok for the rest of us who for one reason or another lived here too.

Never mind that here, Boston, or New England, didn't treat Michael Mazur that well. That is understood. It doesn't treat anyone well. That is part of its charm. He might have been a big shot somewhere else. He might have been celebrated. Here he was just someone else. Last Tuesday he died, and I just happened to hear about it late Friday.

I always liked his work, and thought he was under appreciated. Important arts people in Boston begrudged him his due. I'm not sure why. Maybe because they thought he was someone who made his mark as a printmaker first. Maybe they thought that he tried to come in the back door that way. I don't know. It doesn't matter. I liked his paintings more. Yankees prize craft and skill, so he made his mark early on as, yes, a printmaker, but since it allowed him an entrance, but not a proper entre, he just never fully arrived.

Ptown was and is different, of course. He was a well respected artist here and last year shared the cover of Provincetown Arts with his wife, the poet,Gail Mazur. That is also telling, that last part.

Nature, the landscape, figured into Mazur's work on some level, no matter how abstract, even if it was just a sense of place. Maybe that was the reason he lived up here. Or maybe it was because, as he told me more than once, that he preferred writers to artists, and let's face it, New England is very writer friendly. Inotherwords he felt about people who did what he did pretty pretty much the same way everyone else around here does.

I didn't share Mazur's antipathy for artists, so it is with a certain ironic fondness, fondness that he apparently never knew, that I salute him, thank him, and bid him farewell. Good speed!

-- Post From My iPhone

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Moment

Occasionally something, or someone, or even somewhere wins me over so completely that my affection lasts forever, even when that moment never comes again. I love that something, someone, or somewhere in such a way that it becomes a part of me, a part of my history, a part of how I think of myself and how I think of my life. The sun came out so brightly at that moment that it sticks to me. I think it has something to do with all the things I call my favorites without realizing it.

There are works of art that just knocked me over. Made me want to run out into the night screaming. It is almost unbearable when something moves me that way. Like an electric current is coursing through me. Sometimes the current is not as violent as that, the excitement I feel is quieter and I am able to contain it without anyone knowing, but it is still the same. These things I remember forever, and my affection remains even when the thing itself is gone. I suppose this makes me a sentimentalist.

This ocurred to me because something I am reading which was certainly readable enough anyway surprised me by bursting out with sunshine despite itself that I felt I would burst too. I had to put the book down. Now it is grey again, but I will remember it for that moment, and I know I will always like it for just that.

It made me wonder if there were other things like that, and that was when I realized that I had collected so many things in my life for just that reason. Movies that I still liked for one amazing scene, 8 1/2 comes to mind. People I still liked because of one night or afternoon or dinner party. Or one dance! Or one kiss!

I suspect that there are places I still like the same way: one still deer at sunrise, one salt aired starry night, one thunderhead afternoon, one dove winged sunset caught in a belltower. Or just a perfect day. Cliches to be sure, but they singe our hearts and steal our breath for that moment.

There are things like this that I will not revisit for the simple reason that I do not want these memories spoiled and taken away from me. I won't go back to the Mykonos I knew almost 50 years ago because I know it will be ruined for me. I won't go back and look at the Carravaggios I was changed forever by because I am afraid that in fact I won't love them the same way I think I do.

But there are painters I still like because of one painting that lit up for me. There are people I still love for some special moment who I'm sorry to say hate my guts-- but their smiles live inside me. And then there are the exceptions, and there is the rub; the things I thought I would keep forever that I lost. The painting I went back to where the light was gone, so gone it looked like it had never known light. I hate these moments. My fondness cannot resurrect even the slightest glow.

Many of the things we love are steady and constant; like a Reese's Cup they deliver every time(although I hate to admit that even though a Reese's Cup doesn't deliver for me anymore--I still think it might). We get to enjoy them with regularity. When I told a friend of mine that I was disappointed by a Jasper Johns show a few years ago he said that he thought I had just outgrown the work. I didn't think such a thing was possible. Was Jasper Johns to be outgrown? Was Jasper Johns for the less mature of us? Was he puerile? I didn't think so.

So who does still deliver every time I see his work? I saw my favorite Van Gogh self-portrait recently. Unbelievably it belongs to Harvard. This I was sure would still knock me off my feet! It is the one with the pale green sea of turquoise surrounding and reflecting up into the head and face. This painting had always made me weak in the knees. Now it seemed alien. Like he was an alien; and wasn't that perfect? Didn't that just make sense! It explained everything! It comforted me, who has always been alien. Like the guy in my town from the other side of the world--how weird must he feel in the burbs of Boston!

So who does it for me day in and day out? Resnick? Yes. Always has. Picasso? Yep! I read Harry Potter every night to my kids, and we've almost finished the third time around all seven books and they still deliver. Vivaldi. Porfirio DiDonna. Yes. Gregory Amenoff. Why not. Matisse. Of course. Annie Lennox. Thank you very much. Van Morrison. Hurrah! The Princess Bride. Ditto! The African Queen. Bless you Rosie! These are just a few of those things that haven't come and gone like the weather-- bright and sunny one day and dull and gray the next.

But those other ones, the ones that won me over, they are different. I still keep them around. They might be stale bread, rock hard, and I can't count on them like fresh bread, like the steady ones, or new ones, but I like having them around. They are part of me.

-- Post From My iPhone

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What makes a difference?

Graham Sutherland

Yesterday I picked up a copy of Somerset Maugham's Cakes And Ale at Tim's in Ptown. Signed by Maugham and Graham Sutherland, the illustrator. Tim was kind enough to pull it off of a shelf for me knowing I have a weakness for books signed by artists.The subject, interestingly enough, is what has been on my mind for a long time, but especially in recent days. What that is I will get to soon enough.

Before I do I would like to express my shock at what I encountered from Maugham right off. To put it simply: he eviscerated and ruined a peer and friend in print as pretty as you please as though he was making himself a cup of tea.

In painting a devastating portrait of a fellow writer he asked the question: what is the little talent you have worth, what is your soul worth, if you sell it to advance your career? I cannot help but wonder. It has been my experience that all these things people do to keep themselves in the public eye do little good. I know of artists who have sold their souls a dozen times over and it has done nothing to satisfy their lust for celebrity or fame. They merely become yesterday's news with the dawn of a new day.

You would have to think that it is really fate or luck or destiny, and that like quicksand, the more you struggle, the quicker you disappear. Maugham was cruel beyond measure, but he laid out in great detail what was on my mind. He didn't have to do it at Hugh Walpole's expense. He made an example of him. He also acknowledged his own hypocrisy in doing so, that he was also guilty of this crime, just not as good an example, and certainly not as much fun.

I say all this because there are those that think I am guilty of hiding my light under a bush for not promoting myself more, for not trying to sell my work, for not getting myself out there. I am deservedly embarrassed by all that I do in that regard, and to me it is considerable. It is not that I lack confidence in myself. Quite the contrary. For while I may have a high opinion of myself, I have zero reason to think that anyone else should share that opinion. I am certainly in no hurry to try to change anyone's mind. People should think what it pleases them to think for whatever reason they think it.

That I think and feel this way gives me the liberty to do my work, or not. Whatever happens happens. If I fulfill the promise others felt I had or surprise still others by achieving something beyond what they perceived was my talent is of no consequence; I must trust in and follow my own path. Life is not professional sports. You don't owe the fans anything!

-- Post From My iPhone

Permission to make something: Happen

Todd McKie

I have said this before and I never get tired of saying it: you only need permission from yourself to own your life and do what you dream. Which is to say: you don't need permission from anyone but yourself. If you want to paint or write or dance or make music or play baseball or be a doctor or lawyer or baker or even start your own business, then do it. It is not about being good enough or even good at all; it is about doing it. That is what "just do it" means, of course, but I think it gets lost in the context of advertising.

This morning this little boy I know said "I am awesome" after a stint of boogie boarding. It is a funny thing. It is also terrific. You figure if he can always feel that way he will be ok; that he can weather what life throws at him, land on his feet, and even flourish, which of course is what you want. By all means, have a good opinion of yourself, and make sure you deserve it. The world is not always kind to those with strong self esteem, but then, the world isn't always kind, period. And that's the point. The world would like you to be a slave there for its bidding, whatever that may be. Keep your high opinion of yourself and you just might preserve your liberty. Those who don't like you for it be damned!

As soon as you give up your high opinion of yourself then you are vulnerable, ripe for the bidding of others. As soon as you store your light under a bush, someone else will steal it and use it for themselves. No one tells you this. Instead they would have you believe that the most noble thing you could do is lay down your life for the cause: THEIR cause!

Of course you are selish not to do their bidding! Selfish you! Now who are they going to get to do it, whatever it is, donkeywork or dreams, their donkeywork or dreams! But don't surrender! Don't buy into their logic or rhetoric or false morality. If you want to be a photographer, then be the best photographer you can be even if it means being the worst photographer on the planet, whatever that means!

We pass through this life but a short while; let your light shine!

I like to paint. Always have. It is a curious thing. I did it whether I could afford to or not. It gave me a way to process my experiences. It also gave me an opportunity to make something happen, to make a little magic of my own. Something alchemical or even, forgive me for saying: creative. Creativity is stripped of meaning these days, maybe has been for a long time, but at the bottom of it is the idea of making something happen, or just making something period. That is why I am generally reluctant to sell the things I like; I'm still trying to figure out what happened: what I made. That's why it makes perfect sense to me that an artist's work sells after he or she is dead.

Own your life. Accept the consequences of doing the thing that makes sense to you, the thing you love. The people who love you will love you for it. Be awesome!

A few posts back I had a less than sanguine moment. I was coming down with something. I lost my faith. I lost my faith in art and in myself. I had let myself spend too much time in the company of people who would have me do their bidding. Too much time in the company of people who didn't love me. I almost cut my hair!

-- Post From My iPhone

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Summer art and some aren't pt2

OK. Time for a quick revision! Where to start?

It takes all kinds. Butchers, bakers, etc. Why not artists? It takes a grasshopper with a violin to make the ants dance. I've just been living around too many ants lately. Losing the faith.

That was the thing about Bush and company; they stole the message with guns and bombs. I knew then what I have apparently lost sight of recently; art is the province of the of the individual voice. Art is the boy alone in the crowd declaring the emperor to be naked. Art is the glass raised to life. Art is the sharp lense; art is muse beach; art is the mirror, the dream that shows where we've been, where we are, and where we're going. Art is the chalice that cradles our very being. It is the grail keeps it for our children. Art is the truth, and I believe that: and I just can't forget it.

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, August 03, 2009

Summer art and some aren't

Rory Parks, 2003

There is the lie, and then there is the edge, and it's a long way down. I heard the question posed at a UK camp for kids on the news. They were debating the tale about the emperor's new clothes, one I had just brought up to my own children the day before. The real question was whether there were some lies that if they worked for everyone were therefore good/ok? I wish I had heard the outcome.

My own narrow point of view is that it is always better to go with the truth. Of course that could be the biggest lie of all. And what about art? I just spent a week with my nephew who as an aspiring architect and designer thinks that art is total BS. He didn't say it in so many words, but he didn't have to. Is he intimidated by something he doesn't understand? Of course. But that doesn't mean he's wrong.

The funny thing about the way I think is that art is one of the few things that isn't BS. It is just what it is, and isn't trying to sell you anything. You just take it or leave it for a long as you like.

But who am I kidding? Maybe I have always loved art because I couldn't handle the plain old truth. I need something beautiful to make the truth easier to swallow. I needed my rose colored glasses.

Lately it seems that very soon we are all going to be fighting for our lives. Movies tell us so. The news tells us so. Even books are sending this message more and more. We seem on the brink of some sort of apocalypse if you would believe all of this stuff. It scares me for the kids. I thought Obama would bring peace and a return to culture and learning but it seems that could be worse than Bush, if that is possible, that it will be even more about power. Art will have very little place in a world where we are fighting for our lives.

During WWII my father did not fight like both my uncles. He designed anti-aircraft artillary in Cambridge, MA, while at Harvard. He was and still is a dove, and although he is a Republican, I believe him. But we weren't fighting for our lives. When that happens, do we abandon art, or embrace it even more? For myself, I would be fine with that, but not if my children were in danger. I'm ok with family first. I always knew that I would be an artist, and I always thought that would mean that I couldn't have a family. Now that I do, I wonder if I can really be an artist; sometimes in the face of my family, art seems like total BS, and the opposite is never true. I've always said that it was all about love and art; in that order. Now maybe I think that it is all about love, and that if art can live with that, then I can live with art.

-- Post From My iPhone